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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sound Sights.

Many people don't know that I started my professional days as an illustrator. My extensive work hand-rendering typography and designing commercial work years ago have carried forward into my present art, grounding and informing my design capabilities. 

A few have asked recently about some of the music packaging I've made over the years. This has been a major passion of mine - the artwork along with the music - and so I'm posting some of the album/CD art I've done over the years. It's a small sampling of the dozens of published and hundreds of unpublished music packages I've created. Click the images to see them nice and large.

Perhaps my favorite cover, this was the second recording of Guy Klucevsek's that I worked on. It was the largest object I ever made, and stands still in Guy's home in Staten Island. There are some funny details in the piece, such as the tall blond violinist in the Bantam Orchestra being rendered here - well - blond. I also made the central figure, or Guy, left-handed! It seemed right to me, I'm lefty! Oops. The CD has been out of print for many years as the Swiss label RecRec folded, but I'm told there are plans for a reissue. I hope so, as it's also my favorite recording by my good friend (even without the artwork!).

A more recent piece for Guy, this one happily in print on the Tzadik label, John Zorn's wildly eclectic imprint in NYC. The image is a detail from Handflower, a digital work Guy requested for his CD.

A very early mixed-media painting done for The Tannahill Weavers' best-of collection back in 1989.  The Tannahill's are one of Scotland's most venerable traditional ensembles, and doing this artwork made me a huge fan of their music. I made scores of LP and CD packages for the now-defunct Green Linnet record label which had the market cornered on Irish and Scottish music in the US.

Another Green Linnet release, this time by the illustrious bard Andy M. Stewart. It was also my intro to the beautiful and lyrical work of the poet Robert Burns. This piece is in the collection of one of my closest friends, Arthur Burke.

Another thrilling project, this was a fold-out cover for the legendary Hungarian band Muzsikás (you may remember the lead singer Márta Sebestyén's voice floating through the soundtrack to The English Patient). The music was a reconstruction of the Hungarian Jews' music from the early part of the century. All the original musicians who played this Jewish music were wiped out in the Holocaust, and Muzsikás researched extensively, finding gypsys who had played their own music to the Jews and were able to piece together what the Jewish music was like from them. Absolutely chilling and powerful, it was a project I'm really proud to have been a part of. The luminary folk/rock music producer Joe Boyd owns this illuminated box artwork.

One of the most insanely talented men I know, Andy Rinehart's CD Pillbox is a collision of a dozen different genres. Wild and beautiful stuff.

Here's a curve-ball.  In my record-store pawings back in the 80's, I started finding absolutely incredible albums by the famous Ferrante & Teicher. Most people know them as the apitome of the Muzak sound, but there was a time - before they hit it really huge - when they were absorbed in the wildest mix of experimental pop around. They jammed nuts and bolts into the piano strings, a-la John Cage, and played whip-fast arrangements of show tunes and jazz standards, that are simply like nothing else ever made before or since. It remains some of my favorite music from the 1950's and is still largely unknown by today's audience. I struck up a friendship with their manager Scott Smith (hi Scott!) and was lucky enough to make the artwork for this release of their earliest and, amazingly, only original recording (from 1948), and I even got to contribute a meaty essay in the booklet. This is a combination of airbrush and computer work.

A recent cover done for my good friend and an avant-garde jazz master, Phillip Johnston and his Microscopic Sextet. Funny, poignant and amazingly arranged. The title is a sardonic take on the standard 'Lester Leaps In.' Features a mind-blowing found snapshot of an empty pool where I wanna swim forever. Thanks to my friend Ty for the polaroid!

Another, even more recent piece for Phillip, this time one of his excellent silent film scores, the Japanese horror film 'Page of Madness'. It's a hallucinatory story set in a madhouse. The cover image is massively blown up from a film still of the eye of a Japanese Noh theatre mask that plays a major role in the film.

Although these next two are unpublished, I couldn't resist adding them, as they are artwork for my own musical experiments, dating from 1986 to about 2003. The Collective Ear was really just that, a loose collective of people, with the two core members of myself and buddy Nick Osborn. Check out his Square America website for weeks, literally, of incredible vernacular images he's been amassing over the years.

A simple, but moody image shot from the back seat of Tracy Moore's car as it traveled through his home town of Issaquah, Washington. This was the art for a reworking of old Collective Ear tracks that I remixed and played with.

I hope you enjoyed this one-off post. It's nice to see this stuff in one place.



  1. Delightful post, Keith, not only for the graphics but for the names of musicians I want to hear.

  2. Thanks for sharing Keith I do love your graphics and the music very cool

  3. Completely wonderful. The art work is so varied and excellent I see the connection to your present work. Also, made me think how I could get hold of some of these albums to hear them.
    Thanks for the post.

  4. Keith, I loved walking thru this post, as all kinds of music rock my world. These covers are GREAT! Thanks so much for sharing!
    Once again, this post (and your art) reminds me just how ingenious you are. You truly inspire me to be better than I am as an artist......
    You are and will always be someone I admire, both as a teacher and an artist.
    See you next March (or sooner if I am lucky =)

  5. So beautiful and diverse! I thought of you watching Squonk Opera this weekend; they used a some kind of instrument--theremin?--to make patterns emerge out of a tray of loose sand.

  6. I'm sure that if I saw (most of) these CD's around I would have had a very confused, but familiar feeling. So you; obviously akin to both your jewelry and your digital work. Beautiful!

  7. Geeze, pretty cool stuff there Mr.Stuffsmith.

  8. Mighty cool illustrations and a wildy elclectic grouping of music. Ferrante & Teicher -- who knew?

  9. It's true, each of us carries our own unique "mark". Thank you for exposing yet another layer of your beautiful talent Keith.

  10. PS. My mother said that my grandmother would often throw out the phrase, "Everybody out of the pool, there's a lobster loose!" Any idea where it might have originated?

    Karen from Pittsburgh.

  11. Great covers, and the music looks great, i'll be cking out some of these artists. Thanks for posting this.

  12. You are such an incredible artist, and an adventurer at heart. Thank you for sharing this "one-off" post and taking us through some of your incredible adventures.

  13. Wow -- you did the Tannahill Weavers cover? I've been a big fan of their's since the early 80's! Such a small world :) Good work, as always, Keither

  14. Brilliant! I didn't realise you worked in this way too.

  15. Hey Keith,
    I've got that album Muzikas - I had no idea you'd done the artwork. To think I had a Lo Bue master album artwork years before I'd ever met you!
    I'd love to see the original piece.

  16. Stunning! Next thing ya know we'll find out you're also an astronomer and physicist. These are just beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Incredible work. It shows your scope of intellectual connections between objects, imagery, sound, and your own unique aesthetic. It's fantastic to be able to see this kind of work and have the artist talk about it! Thank the universe for technology and thank you for sharing.

  18. You are unbelievably talented Mr. Stuffsmith.
    I need to hear Muzsikas. My husband and I both have Hungarian Jewish ties. We were in Hungary 2 years ago and loved the country.
    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Wow! Thanks for sharing this post . I love album cover art (I also am a fan of liner notes, which seem to be disappearing). These are great. And I am going to hop over to the links you have for some of these musicians. I have to find out more about the music, now.